I have never seen such smiles, white smiles beaming out of dark faces, sparkling and reflecting off eyes, twinkling through round cheeks. Such joy, such exuberance, such laughter, such dancing.
Until. Until they begin to tell their stories. Until they speak in tear-streaks down faces of the abandonment, the love-lost life of an orphan. Until they speak of fathers killing mothers, of AIDS killing mothers, of selfishness killing the mother-heart, of fathers leaving flesh of their flesh on police station stoops. “I never knew my mother,” one whispers.
Such dark pasts, dreary, lonely and of little hope, and yet these tiny world-leaders, nine years old at best, shout into the dark:
“Never forgotten. Never forsaken. God knows my name.”
I want to pull them to my heart, wipe the tears from their faces, soak love and care into their little bodies from mine. My heart aches with the loneliness they have known, so young, so small. I want to pull them close, arm wrapped around shoulders, whisper, “Yes, Little One. God knows your name. He knew your name when your father walked out, when your mommy died, when your baby sister cried from hunger. He knew your name on the darkest night, when the winds of winter howled through your soul.”
These children from Uganda have impeccable timing. They come to dance and sing with us on the eve of Sandy. Wind is already whipping trees frantic while I worship Jesus with the ones who have clung to him so fiercely.
Wind that will whip through homes, devastating possessions and power and hope. Wind that will leave us shivering in dark nights with little water and little food. Wind that will separate us from communication with our loved ones. Wind that will cost us much.
Large smiles. They are all large smiles. And at the end of their worship, they want to pray for us. Us! Who have so much. Who have known mother’s heart and daddy’s love, who have played with siblings rather than parented them, who sleep in warm beds with sweet dreams.
They, who have so little, want to minister to us. These children! Who have known war, and kidnapping, and rape, and murder. Deep hunger, deep thirst, deep loneliness. These children, who have know more pain in their nine years than I might ever know in my ninety.
How we need their prayers. Because these children’s smiles shine brighter because their past is darker. They are assured of this one thing: God has always known their name. They were never forsaken, never forgotten.
What impeccable timing. Though our houses are lost, though our possessions spoiled, though our power out, though our toes cold, though we grieve and weep and mourn, we can know this: light shines in the darkest places. Light shines in Uganda. Light shines in Sandy’s wake. These children still smile, still sing, still worship.
And just like them, neither have we been forgotten, neither have we been forsaken.
Because I am convinced of this one thing: If an orphan from war-torn Uganda can be assured of Jesus’ love, so can we.